PUMPKINTOWN — Traveling along the scenic Highway 11, drivers see the typical gas stations, roadside diners and the occasional motel.
But one building stands out from the others … The Pumpkintown Mountain Opry is kind of hard to miss.
For more than 30 years, owner John Aartun has been perfecting his Opry: tweaking the menu, adding levels — even building a theater.
And he’s not done yet.
“Oh, I don’t know that it’ll ever be ‘finished,’ I mean, there’s always room for improvement,” he said.
Aartun, who has no formal education in architecture or design, built the Opry from the ground up after learning his craft building things as a boy with his father back home in Norway.
“I drew the blueprints and went to work,” he said.
The original structure, which houses the cafe, took about a year for him to complete.
Norwegian elements are incorporated throughout the building, from the fairy tale style sloping roof lines to the carvings on the walls and benches. Illustrations from children’s stories, hand painted by Aartun’s mother, adorn the woodwork inside.
“It’s (the Opry) a little bit of my imagination. I’ve incorporated things I remember seeing growing up, but I’ve also been all over the United States so there’s just kind of elements in here from everywhere.”
Somehow, it all comes together and the first word that springs to mind when trying to describe it is “magical.”
Aartun, on the other hand, likes to refer to his Opry as a work of art.
“I’m not an artist, but this is a kind of art,” he said.
The Opry is open year round (weather permitting) and in addition to the cafe — which makes a killer BLT sandwich — local jams, ice cream, honey and other small trinkets and crafts are available.
“We’ve messed around with of menu a couple of times throughout the years, but we’ve settled on deli meats now because business is just too unpredictable,” Aartun said. “You can have a horrible, rainy day and we’ll be packed and then you can have a beautiful sunny day — and there’s no one here.”
Hikers fresh off the trails from nearby Table Rock Park wanting lunch make up a lot of the Opry’s business, he said.
But that may change.
In his latest project, Aartun took the outdoor amphitheater located behind the Opry, enclosed it, and plans to bring back his dinner theater starting this June.
“The amphitheater just never worked out,” he said. “It was always raining or too hot, but I always liked the idea.”
Now, if you’re picturing a little stage where someone might come out and play a banjo or something, you’re way off. This is a full size theater — and can sit 300 people for dinner and a show.
“There’s a fold down movie screen at the stage where we’ll show old movies for when people are coming in, getting settled and eating,” Aartun said. “Then, when everyone’s wrapping up the show starts — because our actors are the servers.”
Always one to be hands on, the massive, billowing curtains surrounding the main stage were sewn by Aartun himself on a borrowed sewing machine.
“I had never sewed anything before but I figured I could go ahead and give it a try,” he laughed. “So I borrowed my sister-in-law’s sewing machine and thought ‘Well, this might work.’ It did.”
The Pumpkintown Mountain Opry is located at 3414 Highway 11 in Pickens.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355. Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625